Just Delete It

Facebook’s had an awful year. Frankly, it would be tedious to recount the details. If you are so inclined, you can read Wired’s summary of “the 21 (and counting) biggest Facebook Scandals of 2018.”

The latest round of bad news for Facebook came when the Times reported that the platform granted over 150 companies special access to user data, apparently circumventing stated privacy guidelines and giving the lie once again to their purported desire to give users complete control over their data.

I’m not sure whether these stories even register anymore with those outside the tech journalism/tech criticism/privacy scholarship world. I do see, however, through my small Twitter-sized window into that world, that this story has occasioned another round of debate about the efficacy of deleting Facebook.

More than one tech journalist has re-tweeted a link to Siva Viadhyanathan’s Times op-ed from March of this year urging us not to delete Facebook but, rather, to do something about it. To which claim my inner monologue immediately rejoins, quitting is doing something. Moreover, how difficult is it to imagine quitting Facebook and doing something about it in the way that these kinds of arguments suggest. You know, quit and call your representative or whatever.

The underlying idea here seems to be that there is no future world where Facebook doesn’t exist. We must stay on because leaving is a luxury and we would be abandoning all of those who do not have such a luxury. This assumes that the platform can sustain good faith efforts to speak and defend the truth, etc. That seems, at best, wildly optimistic.

Alternatively, the assumption may also be that what Facebook provides is, generally speaking, a good thing, but, unfortunately, this “good” service is provided by a “bad” company. The point, then, is to somehow preserve the service while making the company better by means to which companies tend to be more responsive (regulation, law suits, etc.).

I’ve written a bit about Facebook over the years—too much, frankly. At just this moment, I’m rather annoyed that I’ve given Facebook as much attention as I have. This summer I wrote a review of Viadhyanathan’s fine book on Facebook for The New Atlantis, and I commented here on the #DeleteFacebook debate from earlier this year.

In the review, I argued that we should consider the possibility that the service Facebook provides, even if it were delivered by a “good” company, would still be an individually and politically debilitating reality. In the post, I tried to make the case that whatever other action is taken with regards to Facebook, the choice of some to delete their accounts should not be derided or discouraged.

Maybe the lesson we are to take from the last two years is not simply that surveillance capitalism is bad news but also that the kind of ubiquitous connectivity upon which it is built is also bad news. This, it seems, is somehow unthinkable to us. To some damning degree, we seem to agree with Zuckerberg’s ideology of connection, most stridently articulated in the infamous Bosworth memo (also this year!). We’ve bought into the idea that digitally connecting people is somehow an unalloyed and innocent good.

This recalls Alan Jacobs’ point from a couple of years back: “So there is a relationship between distraction and addiction, but we are not addicted to devices. As Brooke’s Snapchat story demonstrates, we are addicted to one another, to the affirmation of our value—our very being—that comes from other human beings. We are addicted to being validated by our peers.” (Although, as we now understand more clearly, the design of the devices and platforms is not irrelevant either.)

I would also suggest that the very stickiness of the platform, the very way it leads us generate nuanced and dubious arguments as a rationale for remaining, this by itself should impel us to cut our ties.

So, look, just delete it. At the very least, let’s not give anyone grief for doing so. They are doing something. And I’m not convinced that what they’re doing isn’t, in fact, the most efficacious action we can take. They are willing to believe what we should all consider more seriously, that we can make do just fine in a world without Facebook.

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6 thoughts on “Just Delete It

  1. I quit Facebook almost twenty years ago after being urged by FB to consider throwing an elephant at one of my unresponsive correspondents. The inanity and absurdity of this was overwhelming and I went about looking for a way to “unsubscribe”.

    There was no way to sever one’s ties fully and only after diligently searching the web could I find an unadvertised url that linked me to a page where, despite the heartbreaking entreaties of FB, I was able to be cleansed of FB’s polluting presence forever.

    FB, and for my money, all CPU-driven social media is anti-creation and thereby destructive of human flourishing and to be opposed in every way possible.

    Keep up your highly insightful analysis and writing!

  2. I can’t beat the previous commenter, who was somehow able to delete their Facebook account before it even existed, but I did delete my account in 2014 and haven’t looked back. “No regrats” as the famously misspelled tattoo reads.

    Even back then, it was clear that the company couldn’t be trusted and the product itself was more harmful than useful. Delete it.

    1. Well, so much for trusting memory. I knew I had quit in the early aughts, but have kept no record of the event, such was my wish to distance myself as thoroughly as possible from such unpleasantness.

      Perhaps I could argue that 15 years or so is almost 20? While rummaging around my personal archives for a specific leave date, I discovered I also had no dates for my experiments with blogging and listserv memberships, which I have abandoned to the ether during a 30-year plus period of servitude to the idea of the possibility of virtual, digital community.

      Will rereading the Wendell Berry and Parker Palmer corpora be enough penance for decades of disolute living in a far country where no one would give me so much as a corn husk to eat? Even the early Christian apostates likely had an easier time of it getting back into the Church.

  3. any ways to destroy the company are justified.

    I doubt that the majority will have to do much other than sit and wait until these firms implode. The tide is already turning when I look at the news of this year.

    After enough people have been radicalized sure somebody will walk into their office and blow it up unless they change their ways radically (which is impossible since they are addicted to growth and growth is only possible through creating outrage and radicalization). They are the machines behind radicalization in this world.

    An attack just happened to youtube earlier this year when one youtuber from the US – a truly lost soul – had enough and walked into the HQ with the aim to kill.

    I have no love for any of these companies and would say that it’s too late now. Silicon Valley’s toxic companies have created a monster. people scream for better security and privacy but that is a dead end when your product is simply evil.

    Another example is the alleged terrorist (MAGA bomber) who in reality a sad mentally ill person that went by the twitter handle of @rockstar2016. He wasn’t really a terrorist just somebody that has been pushed off the edge long ago and no doubt found an outlet in twitter to radicalize himself. Twitter shut down his account after he has threatened individuals for months. No AI in the world will be able to police that. Their solution to this is to hide the account from the public (in the name of security of course) so that it’s easier to label these lost souls terrorists and criminals when really they need help finding a way out of isolation that social media creates.

    The true terrorists are the managers and engineers running and building these toxic algorithms. Let them pay for it (with whatever means required). Ted Kaczynski was right in the end and interpreted Jaques Ellul in the only way he can be interpreted.

  4. Facebook and the other Big Four are amassing so much power over so many people that, in most of the ways that pertain to daily life, they are becoming more powerful than our own governments. They have created simulated worlds, in the image of what Jean Baudrillard warned us about, for human minds to inhabit, therefore converting minds into data to fuel themselves, and taking their attention and power out of play in the real world. Those of us who are still anchored entirely in the real world notice their absence and what it means for us and all of our future generations.

    It seems, therefore, that the problem is not only social, but also political. These companies have to be broken up, and their personal surveillance business models have to be declared illegal. Their algorithms have to be de-fanged, because they are being used as weapons to exert unprecedented levels of mass power and control. Opposing them politically in a meaningful way is just one example of what people who feel this way and are serious about it could work to achieve, if we could cut through the technological barriers and find a way to get together and do so.

    For the record, I am one of those people who never signed up for a Facebook account. It looked wrong when it started, so I stayed away. Becoming dependent on a handful of “innovators” for the running of one’s time and life on this Earth is a shortcut to tyranny.

  5. I still have a FB account, but I use it sparingly and carefully. I am mostly interested in pictures of my grandchildren.

    FB is a hostile environment in which the design creates the problem. Consider the news feed to be this narrow straw into which your “Friends” cram their jealously guarded opinions, and then try to change the topic. You will get attacked by others on the page who don’t want the topic changed or who don’t agree with you. This design creates hostility and the means to fix it is not wanted by FB.

    I have been advocating that all blogs, including this one, allow for use of Markdown Format in order to create attributed replies with context quoting, using its block quote feature. I say this knowing full well that most people who use social media sites have not been trained properly to use Markdown Format even when it is available on sites like Reddit or Slashdot. I think this is because of smart phones and texting where carriers charge by character. This causes people to want to be rude and curt and not take the time to support their assertions.

    It is vital if democratic countries are to continue to exist that they be given the means to think clearly and argue with persuasion on-line, and not with the willful suppression of both by social media corporations, not just Facebook, although that design is most repressive.

    I even think that bringing back free, text-only USENET newsgroups by running open source NNTP software be encouraged as a settlement of litigation against social media sites. Facebook should be forced to run USENET servers for open-ended discussion and users should be encouraged to use the features of replying with newsreader programs that allow of attributed contextual reply. Users who write one-line replies with vague pronouns should be discouraged. There is no reason that smartphones should not support 80 by 24 character arrays that could run emacs Gnus, or vi.

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